Behind Closed Doors

Written by Paula Georges

In January 2021, a group of researchers at the Institute for Environment and Society at Brown University, led by Professor J. Timmons Roberts, published a report, Who’s Delaying Climate Change in Massachusetts? The report documents how industrial actors successfully lobby against climate legislation at the state level. The report may not surprise climate activists on how corporate interests in Massachusetts  ̶  armed with incredible financial resources  ̶  are able to block climate legislation; nevertheless, these findings are potentially useful to mount an effective offense against these outsized powerful interests.

One key finding is that the opponents of climate action rarely testify publicly about their opposition to climate bills, but rather meet with policy-makers behind closed doors. Of particular importance to the successful passage of strong amendments to the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), now under consideration at the Boston City Council, is that the public hearings and working group meetings may not reveal the opposition from the real estate trade associations such as NAIOP Mass, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and Mass. Association of Realtors.

As documented in the report, commercial real estate interests resist residential energy efficiency standards and mandating energy audits. Using social justice narratives, real estate interests complain that these kinds of regulations would place an undue burden on housing affordability. Yet, they never talk about how energy bills could be lowered by retrofitting housing with efficiency measures. One possible tactic to neutralize the power of trade associations is to ask those individual members of the association who are friendly to reforms to testify in favor of BERDO amendments.

Another important finding is that pro-climate actors do not always support each other’s bills. For example, solar activists do not necessarily lobby in favor of raising efficiency standards. Expanding the network of green actors that support a wide range of climate bills could increase our movement’s lobbying power. In this light we invite all organizations and activists involved in environmental, energy, and social justice campaigns in the City of Boston to contact your City Councilors in support of passage of a strong amendment to BERDO.